Friday, August 21, 2009

Polymers: Meet High Energy Physics

Ever get the feeling that physicists get to work on all the really cool equipment smashing atoms together and working with subatomic particles, while us polymer people have to work with mundane plastics and rubbers? Well now you can do both. "Muon-fluorine entanglements in fluoropolymers" (J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 21 (2009) 346004 - doi:10.1088/0953*8984/21/34/346004 ) Muons are the first subatomic particle discovered[1] beyond that three (proton, neutron, electron) that chemists generally limit their concern to, having a mass 200 times greater than an electron but the same charge.

I admit I know nearly nothing of subatmoic physics, so it may not be surprising that I'm not sure that I actually took much away from the article. The conclusions seem to be saying that this technique can be used to probe the environment near the fluorine atoms, but there doesn't seem to be any expression of what was learned. But it is another example of how subatomic particles can be put to use for applications other than just keeping a bunch of physicists employed. (Yes, I am well aware of PET scans - with PET standing for positron emission tomography instead of polyethylene terephthalate as might be expected in a polymer blog.)

[1] The Nobel Laureate I.I. Rabi, when told of the discovery stated: "Who ordered that?"

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